Poetic Spotlight: Dover Beach

British poet and critic Matthew Arnold viewed ...

British poet and critic Matthew Arnold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s spotlight falls on British poet and critic Matthew Arnold. Though remembered today largely for his essays and his prose, it was his poetry that actually won him early acclaim. Religious, and the very picture of a proper British gentleman, one of his greatest desires was for new literature “to animate and ennoble” the readers of his time. A graduate of Oxford University, he would go on to be a teacher, and later, a government school inspector, and education, above all else, became one of the driving forces of Arnold’s life.

Many of his poems struck at social issues, and reflected rather clearly the values of the era, while others struggled with the concept of psychological isolation. It could be argued the man had a certain lofty sense of self, based on some of his written self-assessments, yet given the praise he garnered in a time of Victorian sensibility, it’s small wonder. Today, however, his poetry is mostly to be found in school anthologies, and as such, many students may remember today’s piece–”Dover Beach,” one of his most well-regarded pieces.

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

~Matthew Arnold
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Poetic Spotlight: Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

The rebel Guy Fawkes, by George Cruikshank. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

I put off the poetic spotlight for a few days this time around for two-fold reasons. First of all, I was much too excited about the maps announcement for my upcoming novel earlier this week – and second, I thought it would be all too appropriate to wait for the fifth. Why? Well, of course it’s all in the title my good readers – a little English folk song for you to entertain yourself with.

The lyrics, revolving around the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Guy Fawkes and a number of co-conspirators attempted to blow up the English Parliament. The event, remembered in the tune, but more recently popularized by the movie V for Vendetta, is often heralded as a sign of people’s movements against corrupt or dictatorial powers. So without further adieu…

Remember, remember the fifth of November

Gunpowder, treason and plot

I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent

To blow up the King and the Parliament

Three score barrels of powder below

Poor old England to overthrow

By God’s providence he was catched

With a dark lantern and burning match

Holloa boys, holloa boys

God save the King!

Hip hip hooray!

Hip hip hooray!